Jennifer Boyle

“Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine?”
— From Tuesdays With Morrie

I recently read Tuesdays with Morrie, a book about an extraordinary teacher and his former pupil. When I came upon the quote above, I immediately thought of Sheryl Field. More than anything else, I see Sheryl as a very skilled, very special teacher. Using the Feldenkrais Method, Sheryl is teaching my son Sean to both understand and use his body. Sheryl relates to Sean in a respectful, positive manner, meeting him “where he is” and helping him take the next steps toward more natural movement. She focuses on what is working rather than what is wrong; on building Sean is abilities rather than correcting his deficits.

As the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, it's incredibly refreshing to see how Sheryl focuses on what is already right with Sean, helping him improve by using his body on its own terms. Sheryl helps Sean to master a little more of himself each week by making him an active participant in his Feldenkrais sessions. Over time, I can see Sean discovering ways of moving that were previously inaccessible, and he is literally learning how to negotiate with his own body. I feel privileged that Sean is in the hands of such a skilled professional, and I am grateful for Sheryl's unique approach via the Feldenkrais Method.

Ali Kirwin Lisa Kirwin

When I met Sheryl Field Ali's head was stuck pointed over her right shoulder. Her arm and hand were spastically held in a twisted spiraling fashion. After one Functional Integration session Ali freely moved her head to the left. I was hooked. I brought Ali back to see Sheryl for the next four plus years.

For a long while Ali came five times a week, an hour each session. In the beginning I had no understanding of what Sheryl was doing. I could tell that what she was doing was waking up Ali in the most basic sense. Bringing her nervous system alive, as though it had previously been in a coma and was now joining the aware and functioning world.

For the longest time Sheryl worked on making Ali aware of her spine, the very center of her body. I watched as she taught Ali to feel the connection between her pelvis and her spine. Her head and her navel. As Ali's awareness grew, so did her ability to function. It seems to me that the key to the Feldenkrais method is that it works on a developmental model. Each child is brought from one level of functioning to the next developmentally appropriate level by becoming aware of new movements available to them. As they acquire each movement they build on this foundation until each movement is complete, and in Ali's case with an often elegant ease. This continued throughout her work with Sheryl, and continues today.

We have learned from this work many things. We have learned the value of patience. We have learned that if we put in the time and give Ali the experiences necessary she can and will learn what many (MOST!) thought impossible. We have learned to wait, sometimes for long periods of time.

Since Ali entered my life I have been around a lot of children with neurological/motor impairments. I have met many children who have had surgery or/and botox treatments. I have spent time with children in wheelchairs and braces. It seems to me that ignorance of what somatics can do for a young child robs these children of their potential. I am hopeful that The Field Center will bring to families and the medical community information that is compelling enough to improve neurologically challenged children's lives.

One of the most difficult aspects of Ali having cerebral palsy has been a lack of information. Solid, documented information about treatments that might help her. I had to research, read extensively, draw my own conclusions and watch very carefully. I could tell that conventional physical therapy had not helped Ali. I could tell that The Feldenkrais Method made it possible for her to move in a more organized fashion each time she had a session with Sheryl. So I continued to bring Ali, trusted in Sheryl and watched as Ali slowly, very slowly, improved.

It has been worth it!

Shortly after Ali's diagnosis we made the rounds of pediatric neurologist. We received one dire prognosis after another. She might not ever hold her head up, or sit. She may not be able to communicate. The likelihood of her walking was nearly impossible.

Fortunately for all of us I generally question authority. That along with complete ignorance the current scientific thinking of what was possible in rehabilitation of infants with cerebral palsy has led us where we are today. I decided to only work with people who believed that Ali would improve significantly and stumbled upon some geniuses along the way!

Today Ali continues to keep me very busy. She rides horses twice a week. Therapeutic horseback riding with the goal that she will ride independently in the next year or two. She takes dance lessons on Wednesday afternoons. Her dance teacher is a gifted dance therapist who is also a movement therapist. She is learning how to ride her new bike, a bike with large training wheels and toe clips as its only modifications. She swims independently. Yes, it is only dog paddling, but it is swimming! This winter she also went skiing in Sugarbush, VT. I watched as she held onto a pole between two ski instructors and skied down a bunny hill, again and again.

On Monday mornings I help out in her 1st grade class in the Amherst public school system. I help out with her reading group. She is in a mainstream classroom. She brings her shiny red reverse pediatric walker to school so that she can keep up with the other kids. (At home she walks independently.) She loves school!

Ali continues to struggle. Often it is difficult to understand her speech, although like everything else it continues to improve. She still can not move as easily as the rest of us. Walking independently is still very challenging for her. But she loves to sing and dance and ride horses and read books. She loves to hang out with other kids, to go to the park, to soar in the swings.

Most days I look upon Ali in wonder. Her spirit is enormous. Her determination and tenacity are awe inspiring. I feel honored that she is my daughter. I am proud of what we have accomplished together. I look forward to watching what the future has in store for her.

I hope that in the not too distant future all children with challenges similar to Ali have the same options that she has had, and are given the opportunity to learn from their difficulties and not to be shut down by them. I hope that we as parents give ourselves the opportunity to learn from these brave and resilient souls, to be enriched by their depth and strength and the immense joy of their daily accomplishments. Do not sell these children's futures short, they need your help and your patience.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Hannah Tracy Ehrlich

In the two years that Sheryl Field has been working with my daughter Hannah, I have seen her make more progress with Sheryl and the Feldenkrais method than with any other treatment. Sheryl addresses the whole child not just the child's special needs. The Feldenkrais lessons involve a process of active learning, during which Hannah is a full participant. Since I am an educator myself, this aspect is particularly meaningful for me; successful integration of any kind of learning depends on the active participation of the child. Instead of training Hannah's body in “typical” movement patterns, Sheryl encourages her to explore movement in settings in which Hannah discovers for herself the functional use of her own body. Her pleasure is evident each time she comes up into sitting, her face opening in a wide smile. She rarely needs to be entertained by toys or music; instead, she is completely engaged by the physical and visual sensations she is experiencing. Sheryl is so deeply attuned to Hannah that there is no crying (any more!) only total focus — a tremendous accomplishment for a child who lacks control of her own body. Sheryl is not just a practitioner, she is Hannah's partner in development and a friend and champion of our entire family.